Christmastime! The one time of the year where everyone batons down the hatches against the cold, digs out the best wine glasses, crockery and the good silverware. The endless filling out of Christmas cards and flicking through the festive edition of the Radio Times searching for the big films and Christmas specials. The only time of year where you are prepared to wear the big new jumper with the snowmen on it Auntie Doris bought you. Everything is geared up to be a big day in the middle of the season, a beacon that tells you that you’re halfway through winter and things can only get better from here out. Except, that is, when you are on the opposite side of the world and it is the middle of summer.
God, it’s weird. They have all of the same things as in England, snow themed decorations, a big tree sprayed with fake snow, Father Chrimbles wearing a big red coat and all that. It’s just what you see around it. You see trees for sale next to barbecue sets. Suncream sold next to Santa hats, the big man himself sweating his nuts off in the heat whilst the ‘little helpers’ are wearing sunshades. People actually plan to go to the beach on Christmas Day, if we did that back home we’d get a visit from the large men driving the bouncy padded van.
In the centre of towns all over New Zealand, the councils have put up their decorations. The problem is that nobody notices them in the day because it’s so bright, and nobody see’s them lit up at night because none of the pubs are open past half ten. That would be a shooting offence in Blighty nowadays.
The up side to the summer sun and Christmas being together is that when the kids have their end of year holiday, Christmas is in the middle of it. You can wrap presents whilst they are out playing. Or, like me you can sit in a street side cafe with your bits and pieces in the sunshine and…
Whoa, what’s that?
Like deers startled by a noise, the staff have all just pricked their ears up and are looking around, wide eyed. A fraction of a second later and my stool begins to slide back and forth under me and the bottles behind the bar start to topple. The whole world starts to rock as with a fleetness of foot I never thought I had, I’m dashing for the exit a step behind the Japanese waitress. Out on the street and everyone else has done the same. Car and building alarms are wailing and somewhere behind is a rumble from the cliff face surrounding Sumner, the town I’m in. A pipe has burst and is spurting water onto the street. Above buildings near the heart of the town, a dust cloud rises into the sky. All is still again but people remain outside. A siren like those that warn of an air raid in the war films goes off somewhere, I’m told it’s calling out the volunteer fire brigade. After ten more minutes of standing and staring at people standing and staring, the cafe manager says something about switching off the power and dashes back into the building. I look at where I was sat. My computer is sitting on the table, waiting for me to plug it in and recharge the dead battery whilst downloading the next episodes of the Sopranos. I was going to let it do that whilst I wrapped gifts and ate a gourmet sausage roll. I cast an eye over the front of the cafe, nothing is out of place, even the bottles have managed to remain on the bar. Inside, the manager hasn’t been crushed to death by falling ceilings. Its only about five yards away so I swiftly walk back in, grab the Mac and carry case and after a millisecond looking at it, the sausage roll. Well, I was hungry. Back on the street, people are starting to talk about “5½ maybe, a few kilometres that way?” and “Not any liquefaction this time, that’s good.” Everyone has a mobile phone in hand, checking on whoever needs checking on and consulting the internet. “GeoNet’s not said anything yet, neither has Canterbury Quake Live.” I finish off the sausage roll, everyone begins to make their way back inside. My phone rings, the friend who I’m spending Christmas with is checking up on me. All is well his end, thankfully. I approach the cafe manager and ask to pay for the roll, but she just waves me off, “Don’t worry about, it was hardly a good meal.” I thank her and collect my things, it just doesn’t seem right using her electricity and scissors when I’ve not paid anything. I wander back on to the street, people are returning to their normal routines again, however the traffic is noticeably busier. After the roll I’m thirsty, the tea I had ordered with it is still on the table I was sitting at, cold and untouched. The pub over the road is still open, so I go in and order a pint. Luckily, in the beer garden is an outside socket and an empty table. I begin setting out my things again, but the bloody socket is too far away from the…
The table starts to shake, I’m outside this time so no need to run anywhere. I keep my hand around my pint and am slightly amused that the lager is still shaking. Again with the car alarms, building alarms, I hear a window smash. Then all is still. People are back out on the street, and the first signs of officialdom have started to appear. A police car goes past, lights flashing but no siren, then a fire engine. Overhead, someone points out a helicopter, three are circling around. “Hey, look it’s the Channel 3 chopper, we’re on telly!” We all stand and wave as our images are flashed live around the globe, unusually for me there’s no ketchup around my gob or down my teeshirt this time when a camera is present. I’m texted by my friend, all is still well. Giving up on my wrapping, I finish my pint and retrieve my things before returning to my car. Driving back to base, I’m past by police cars and fire engines, sirens wailing. I follow the coast road, since the last earthquake brought down the cliff face, to protect the road shipping containers were filled with concrete and are stacked in a row against any new rock fall. Dust raises from behind these where boulders still fall. In places several burst water pipes spout water high above the street, I flick on my wipers as I drive through. Getting back to my friend’s house, I’m relieved when I’m told there is no further damage. We all gather around the telly, that last one was a magnitude 6, the one before a 5.8 on the Richter scale. A few aftershocks (unfortunately not the alcoholic variety) keep us on our toes for the next few hours and into the night, but nothing to make us dash for the door. I lay wide awake in my van, parked at the end of the driveway. Every tiny shudder, real or imaginary and my heart starts beating just that little bit faster. I’m still wearing the shorts I’ve worn all day in case I need to make a mad dash, but I don’t know where too, because I’m outside already. I work out that when the curtains shake, then that’s a reminder of the power of nature around me and not the fire engines and trucks that go by all time.
You know you’re in Christchurch when you baton down the hatches to stop the windows falling out. All of your good crockery is the stuff that didn’t smash or is made of plastic, and the only thing you’re filling out are the latest insurance forms after the last ‘quake. You’re hooked to the television, searching out the latest news report and finding out where the last one struck. It’s the only town where the residents wear ‘special pyjamas’ so they don’t find themselves running for the door in the buff. Everything is geared up to making a quick getaway, the only beacon is the bat signal style ‘Lights of Hope’ that sweep the sky at night from the city centre. Still, at least this time it was in the middle of summer, and it doesn’t matter that you’re on the other side of the world if you’re with friends.
Christmas Day past without a single shake, except from the cocktail maker. Everyone had a fantastic time and many transglobal phone calls were made. I know I’m a little late posting this, it was supposed to be out before the festivities, so I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Yuletide and I wish you all a Happy, Prosperous (and hopefully free of nature’s wrath) New Year!
Mini Count:- 33, a wealth of them in Christchurch, no quake can stop them!